By Prof Sophie Hennekam, Audencia
COVID-19 has brought massive challenges to our societies and way of life worldwide – personally and professionally.
Before the pandemic, thriving in the workplace was at the top of many professionals’ agenda, as a mean to find fulfilment and even happiness for some. But now, after more than a year of COVID-19s, of countries going in and out of lockdowns, of restrictions on our freedom of traveling, of meeting loved ones, of going to the office, how can we still think about thriving professionally?
The recent vaccine roll-out has of course brought a sense of hope, but after the shock of 2020 and now reaching the end of the first quarter of 2021, we need to dig deep in our inner resources and focus on what is truly important – our physical and mental health.
The pandemic has pushed mental health to the forefront of public attention. Statistics from the United States show that four out of ten adults have experienced some symptoms of anxiety and depression since the start of the pandemic, which is four times higher the number before the pandemic. Eating and sleeping patterns have been disturbed and substance abuse is on the rise. Other countries such as China and the UK show similar findings.
Indeed, the climate of uncertainty and the perception of threat related to COVID-19 can lead to feelings of stress, fear and worry. In addition to the health-related risks, the pandemic has turned many lives upside down because of homeschooling children, working from home, furlough, and the lack of personal contact with colleagues, friends and family. While some have adjusted reasonably well to this ‘new normal’, the situation remains deeply challenging for many.
So, after more than a year into the pandemic, here are a few tips that may help us thrive in our professional lives.
It is vital not to feel isolated or forgotten, so staying in touch, even virtually, is important. Any kind personal contact, like a phone call wishing a colleague a good weekend, is a simple but effective way to show care and reduce colleagues’ feelings of isolation. Sharing and bonding with others is a basic need, just like food and sleep, so it’s important to meet it.
Developing and building resilience is a vital tool to help deal with change. It helps us overcome adversity, bounce back and make us stronger. It is also a long-term strategy to better deal with future stresses and setbacks. One of the ways to build resilience is to practise gratitude, a technique that helps us to focus our attention on the positive parts of our life, instead of what isn’t going so well.
Mental health and physical health are interrelated, so moving your body should be a priority! Regular exercise like walking, jogging or cycling are hugely beneficial to physical, and thus mental, wellbeing, and with Spring well on the way, now is a great time to start. Breathing exercises, meditation and other mindfulness activities are also great ways to keep healthy and reduce stress. Finally, regular and sufficient sleep as well as a balanced diet help to keep our body and mind healthy.
Cases of employee burnout have increased since last year, so, as the boundaries between work and non-work time tend to blur when working from home, it is paramount that you set rules on when it is time to disconnect and relax. Secure some time to unwind and connect to what makes you thrive and gives you energy. Getting all your work done is of course important, but not at the cost of your health. If you feel overwhelmed or not able to cope, speak to your HR department or your boss to find a solution to alleviate pressure. Everyone will benefit.
Finally, many of us working from home may also be responsible for the care of children, partners, parents, or even vulnerable neighbors. Too many of us are primed to prioritise others, but just as in emergencies during flights you are instructed to “put your oxygen mask on first”, it is important to remember that to care for others and to work efficiently, we have to look after ourselves first. Everyone around you, in both your personal and professional life, will benefit from your own self-care. By looking after each other, together, we can all contribute to make the current situation easier, and, ultimately, we will not only survive, but thrive.
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